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Using Positive Discipline with Your Child


No way around it: All kids misbehave (just like grown-ups have been known to do on occasion!). You could scream, spank, or scold your child into behaving, but those traditional, dictatorial methods are generally not preferred by today's parents (for good reason!). Instead, one modern way to deal with a child's poor behavior is to use positive discipline.

Positive Discipline

Positive discipline has been popular in the United States since Dr. Jane Nelsen published her book of the same name back in 1981. Instead of applying harsh punishments or using physical or verbal threats to stop a child from misbehaving, positive discipline focuses on recognizing good behaviors, establishing clear, consistent limits and boundaries, and teaching kids how to best handle situations through modeling and communication. Studies have shown that using positive discipline consistently can actually prevent, not just temporarily cease, kids from behaving badly long term.

How Should You Approach Positive Discipline?

The approach of positive discipline is kind but firm, and respectful of both the child and the parent. Often kids act out when they want attention or some other need is not being met. Practitioners of positive discipline focus on treating the need, rather than punishing the behavior. For example, a child throwing a tantrum is probably tired, hungry, or both; a PD-using parent would do their best to ignore the tantrum and work on getting the child a snack and/or a nap. And redirecting a child from a negative behavior--such as running around the store--into a positive behavior, such as being involved in helping find the right kind of bread, is another PD method.

Behavior Modeling

Another strong element of positive discipline is modeling the behaviors you want to develop in your child. Listening and speaking calmly instead of getting frustrated and yelling is one way to apply positive discipline when your child is acting out; it might take counting to 10 in your head or singing, instead of shouting, what you'd like your child to do. Instead of barking orders or pointing out things your child is doing wrong, try communicating the appropriate behavior instead (for example, you could say "We walk in the house" instead of "Don't run!"). And recognizing the good—such as acknowledging how nicely your child is sitting at the dinner table—is preferred over harping on the bad (like the fact that he's pushing the food around on his plate instead of eating it).

Are You Encouraging Bad Behaviors?

Some parents new to positive discipline think its methods include being permissive of bad behaviors, but this is not the case. Punishments, in the form of taking away a privilege or requiring a child to clean up a mess, play a part as a clearly defined, respectful tool. Parents utilizing positive discipline often ask their children to help set consequences. Being included in establishing rules and punishments can help kids feel a sense of belonging and importance, which is a goal of all people and fulfills a natural human need. And research shows children who feel this connection are less likely to misbehave. Once they've been established, following and kindly but firmly enforcing the rules consistently across all family members is extremely important.

Your discipline style and how you deal with your child's behavior can set the stage for your child's future behavior, self-esteem, and even problem-solving skills. Maybe you were spanked, berated or or even screamed at by your parents, and you've vowed not to act that way with your kids. Or maybe you've tried other methods to no success... maybe it's time to give positive discipline a try!

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